by Pamela Jessen, Zebra Pit Contributing Author
Have you ever wanted an easier way of being tested when you have Gastrointestinal problems?
Gastrointestinal motility describes how well your digestive system works moving food in and waste out. When you have a GI motility disorder, that means your system doesn’t work the way it should. There is a problem at some point along the digestive tract, and your symptoms may be chronic nausea, bloating, constipation, abdominal pain, or vomiting. Now imagine being able to swallow a single pill to help determine what the problem is? Those days are becoming a reality with The SmartPill™.
The SmartPill™ study is a diagnostic technique that can investigate gut health, particularly with regard to motility disorders. The electronic pill is a disposable capsule that the patient swallows in the doctor’s office. It uses a variety of sensors to test gut pH (how acid or alkaline the GI tract is at any point), and gut pressure. The system also measures the pill’s approximate position in the body. The SmartPill™ is monitored for a number of days until it exits from the body in a bowel movement. It therefore takes diagnostic readings for the entire duration of its motion through the gastrointestinal tract.
The SmartPill™ measures the amount of time it takes to move food through specific regions of the gastrointestinal tract and the overall amount of time it takes to move food through the entire gastrointestinal tract. By measuring gut pressure, the system can determine how hard the muscles of the gut are pushing at any particular point during the voyage of the pill. The pH readings can diagnose the presence of low stomach acid, as well as problems with abnormally low or high pH in other areas.
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No sedation or radiation is used and so the risks for this procedure are fairly low. The patient can go about their usual activities. The main risk is the possibility of the pill becoming stuck at some point within the gut. It is not necessary to purge the gut with laxatives because no imaging is used, and so the gut can be in a more natural state than with a colonoscopy.
In order to monitor the pill, the patient must wear a radio receiver at all times during the study. This receiver records data that is wirelessly transmitted from the pill. The receiver can be worn on a belt or lanyard. At the start of the study, the patient must eat a standard meal, which is typically something like a granola bar, after which the pill is swallowed. The test concludes 3-5 days later when the pill has passed out of the body in a bowel movement.
Following the test, the data collector is returned to the doctor who will review and discuss the collected data.
The Need for Testing
There are various GI disorders that will qualify for SmartPill™ testing, such as unexplained nausea and vomiting, heartburn, ulcers, abdominal pain, constipation, diarrhea, or incontinence.
Gastroparesis is one of the main disorders that can benefit from SmartPill™ technology. Gastroparesis means paralysis of the muscles of the stomach. This results in delayed emptying of food from the stomach into the small intestine. The primary symptoms are bloating, nausea and vomiting. You may also experience something called “dumping syndrome” which is the difficulty of regulating the movement of food. Symptoms include:
- A feeling of fullness, even after eating just a small amount
- Abdominal cramping or pain
- Nausea or vomiting
- Severe diarrhea
- Sweating, flushing, or light-headedness
- Rapid heartbeat
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Gastroparesis is hard to diagnose without investigative testing and normally needs a motility study done. To accomplish this, an egg sandwich with a radioactive tracer is eaten, and a series of x-rays are taken to determine how quickly the tracer is transported through the GI tract. The test can take up to 2 hours long as the x-rays are taken at various intervals (every 5 minutes, then 10 minutes, then 30 minutes, etc.). It’s easy to see why swallowing a single pill and going about your normal day would be seen as a benefit.
Many medical clinics in the US seem to be using this technology but it doesn’t seem to be as popular in Canada yet. The next time you’re scheduled to see your Gastroenterologist, ask about SmartPill™ technology and whether it’s something that could benefit you now.
About the Author
Pamela Jessen lives in Langford, BC Canada. She is a blogger who writes about Chronic Pain, Chronic Fatigue and Invisible Illness at pamelajessen.com. She also writes for The Mighty, PainResource.com and various independent publications. Pamela is also a Patient Advocate with the Patient Voices Network in BC. She sits on 4 committees and one Provincial working group and has also been involved in advocacy work at the Canadian National level as well. Pamela is married to her amazing husband Ray and they have one cat named Dorie.